By Richard Rhinehart ~ May 25th, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized.
Little data exists as to how many people actively visit undeveloped caves in the United States. Though commercial caves such as Coloradoâ€™s Glenwood Caverns and the Cave of the Winds regularly attract more than 100,000 visitors annually, no organization or governmental agency has attempted to determine the overall number of visitors to developed or undeveloped caves. Most certainly, it is in the millions, given that Americaâ€™s commercial caves collectively attract upwards of one million customers each year.
Of those who visit caves on even an occasional basis, anecdotal evidence suggests that only a fraction seek out meetings of a local chapter of the National Speleological Society. Americaâ€™s only national organization of cavers, cave conservationists and cave scientists, the Society was chartered in 1941. Headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama, about 11,000 members in all 50 states comprise the Society today. Many states, including Colorado, have local chapters called grottos.
Like many outdoor enthusiast groups, grottos include men and women of all ages and abilities who enjoy caves and caving. They gather together regularly to report on recent cave trips, discuss news, and arrange future outings. Meeting at libraries, restaurants, public meeting rooms, and even private homes, chapters of the Society commonly meet monthly. Many grotto meetings are informal, with conversation dominating. Others are a little more formal, with a business meeting. Some meetings feature video or PowerPoint programs or talks about caves and caving, be it local, national or international.
Membership in a grotto is very inexpensive, with annual fees ranging from $5 to $10. Some grottos offer family memberships, allowing a family to join at a discounted rate. For grottos in Colorado, membership is encouraged, both in the chapter and in the Society, though not required.
Although grottos offer open trips to area caves, most do not provide guide services. Unlike other outdoor organizations, published trip schedules are rare. More often, cavers will announce trips at meetings, passing around sign up sheets or informally talking with interested cavers following the meeting. Some grottos such as the Colorado Grotto schedule weekends at area caving areas that are open to all interested cavers. Larger gatherings, such as Coloradoâ€™s annual Mad Rats weekend, attract cavers from across the state.
Grottos also offer training for new members, including rope work and basic caving skills. Jason Conner of the Red Canyon Grotto offers a caving class, and the Southern Colorado Mountain Grotto regularly schedules vertical training sessions.
Colorado Grottos You Can Join
Active chapters of the National Speleological Society in Colorado are located in Fort Collins/Loveland, Northglenn, Denver, Colorado Springs, Canon City, Glenwood Springs and Rifle.
For cavers in the Fort Collins/Loveland area, the Northern Colorado Grotto meets the second Tuesday of each month at a memberâ€™s house. Originally begun in 1968 as a student grotto with Colorado State University, the chapter rechartered as a standard grotto in the 1980s.
In the summer of 2011, Denverâ€™s Colorado Grotto will celebrate its 60th anniversary. Founded by Dr. William R. Halliday, author of such caving classics as Adventure is Underground, Depths of the Earth and American Caves and Caving, the chapter was one of Â the Societyâ€™s first west of the Mississippi River. Coloradoâ€™s largest chapter in terms of membership, the grotto meets regularly at the Friends Meeting House just east of Denver University on the first Thursday of each month. The Colorado Grotto is a member of the Wind Cave Project, at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota. Survey and exploration trips to this large Black Hills cavern are held regularly throughout the year.
The Denver metropolitan areaâ€™s second chapter, the Front Range Grotto, was begun in 1962 as a student grotto at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. In 1976, the grotto reorganized as a standard grotto, changed its name to the Colorado Mines Grotto, and met at a variety of locations in Lakewood and Denver. In the mid 1980s, the chapter renamed itself again and moved to Northglenn, where it has stayed ever since. It currently meets on the third Wednesday of each month at the public meeting room at Oâ€™Meara Ford.
Colorado Springs is home to Coloradoâ€™s second largest grotto, the Southern Colorado Mountain Grotto, chartered in 1977. Meetings are held on the first Wednesday of each month at Jack Quinnâ€™s in downtown Colorado Springs, and are usually well-attended. With Cave of the Winds only minutes from Colorado Springs, the grotto hosts an annual holiday dinner and party for members at the cave each December.
For cavers in the Canon City/Pueblo area, the Red Canyon Grotto in Canon City provides a local opportunity to become involved in caves and caving. Meeting the second Wednesday of each month at McLellenâ€™s Grill and Brewing Company in downtown Canon City, the grotto has a small but energetic membership. It was chartered in 2007 and is Coloradoâ€™s newest grotto.
In western Colorado, two chapters of the Society offer the opportunity for fellowship and cave activities. The Timberline Grotto in Glenwood Springs was founded in 1987 and meets the second Saturday of March, September and December at memberâ€™s homes. The grotto also hosts a weekend of caving on the White River Plateau each Memorial Day weekend.
The Colorado Western Slope Grotto, chartered in 2006, is based in Rifle. With members from Rifle, Grand Junction, Montrose other western Colorado cities and towns, the chapter meets online the second Wednesday of each month. Visit the grottoâ€™s web site for additional information regarding these unique online meetings.
Other Colorado Caving Organizations
All Colorado grottos are members of the Colorado Cave Survey, the non-profit state organization that manages cave access and management with private and public land owners. The Survey also maintains files on Colorado caves, old cave registers, cave survey notes, and documentation on various caves. The Survey is an organization of the Society and includes representatives from each member grotto.
Most Colorado grottos are also members of the Williams Canyon Project of the National Speleological Society. Chartered in 1989, the Project assists the privately-owned Cave of the Winds manage the many caves of Williams Canyon and Cavern Gulch. The Project also oversees activities in the caves, including recreational, exploration, scientific and conservation trips. The Project board of directors and interested cavers meet three times annually, in September, January and April at the Cave of the Winds.
Many grottos maintain membership in the Fairy Caves Project at Glenwood Caverns. Organized in 1999, the project works closely with the management of the commercial cave, helping coordinate caver projects and activities, including science, exploration, conservation and recreation.
Although many of the grottos maintain membership newsletters and email lists, many are publishing partners of Rocky Mountain Caving, Coloradoâ€™s state caving journal. Published quarterly, the journal was founded in 1984 when the newsletters from the Southern Colorado Mountain Grotto, Colorado Mines and Colorado grottos joined together. Professionally designed and published, Rocky Mountain Caving is one of Americaâ€™s leading caving journals, having published over 100 editions in the last 26 years. It includes news and information about caves, cavers and caving in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West. Subscriptions are available through the member grottos, or direct from the publisher.
Colorado chapters are also members of the Societyâ€™s Rocky Mountain Region. Comprised of grottos in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana, the region often hosts a regional gathering in a caving area during a summer weekend, Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Although new cavers usually attend grotto meetings seeking information about local caves and caving, the fellowship, knowledge and experience of the members offer an excellent reason to join and actively participate. Whether you are interested in cave exploration, science, conservation or simply enjoying caves, National Speleological Society grottos provide an opportunity to become a part of a larger state and national community.Tags: caving, club, Colorado, Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins, Glenwood Springs, grotto, National Speleological Society, Northglenn, Rifle